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Parsons Brinckerhoff and former CEO partner to solve the “brain drain” challenge

For firms large and small, hiring is always a balancing act between keeping the business moving forward and being patient to find the right people to fit into your organization

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April 29, 2015 |
Sasha Reed

For many executives in the design and building industry, finding the right talent to meet the demands of business is a challenge. For firms large and small, hiring is always a balancing act between keeping the business moving forward and being patient to find the right people to fit into your organization and take you where you want to go. Today within the AEC industry there is an even more critical issue known as “brain drain,” which is creating a looming cliff—or broadening “knowledge gap”—between experienced veterans of the industry and their less experienced counterparts. 

Back in January, Rob Cassidy wrote the article  The coming architect/engineer brain drain, or “Curse of the Baby Boomer”. In it Cassidy outlines some alarming statistics about the next generation of architects and engineers (or rather, the lack thereof), which most likely confirms what you are seeing and experiencing in your own organization. Adding complexity to the issue is the rapid adoption of technology aimed at making 3D design more efficient. Many engineering professors and senior designers I’ve talked to have expressed concern that while technology is improving the business process overall, they fear we are in danger of losing valuable fundamental knowledge in the process. 

In an effort to find AEC leaders who could offer some insight on the issue, I spoke with former CEO of Parsons Brinckerhoff, George Pierson. I reached out to him after coming across his nomination as a Top 25 Newsmaker for 2014. What struck me about his nomination wasn’t the fact that he’d just taken Parsons Brinckerhoff through a very impressive acquisition of $1.35b in October 2014, but rather another notable milestone he’d reached in the spring of that same year: the successful completion of a project Pierson started, for both personal and professional reasons, four years earlier. 

Back in 2010, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Pierson joined efforts to solve the brain drain issue by investing $250,000 to launch a program called the Engineering Success Alliance (ESA). Working with his alma mater, Bucknell University, Pierson set out to broaden the engineering and construction talent pool. The program is aimed at increasing the number of students in these fields while also addressing the lack of diversity within our top engineering programs by recruiting students from under-resourced high schools. 

Believing that we need a workforce that reflects our communities, ESA is an invitation-only, four- year program for minority high school students who meet the standards of the top engineering schools. Focusing on math and science tutoring and peer and professional mentoring, including summer internships, the program aims to lessen the dropout rate for minority students.  Prior to ESA’s involvement, the dropout rate for minority students was three times the national average. In the spring of 2014, Pierson was happy to report that the first graduating class saw a 30% increase in completion rates among minorities.  

Reading Pierson’s story, I was surprised to learn that he was the first person in his family to go to college. Calling education his “passion,” he believes education has an impact on not only the person going to school, but also the families and generations that follow. This struck a chord with me as I am also the first person in my family to go to college and have experienced firsthand the impact it has had on my life. When I spoke with Pierson and asked him about his key motivators, he said, “You don’t sit back and reflect on key motivators— you think, what should I do? Being the first in my family to go to college, I am a big supporter of education.  For many it means [a path to] social and financial stability.” 

CNN interviewed Pierson for a piece called Missing: Minority scientist and engineers. The report shows just how under-represented minorities are in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) industries.  Knowing how beneficial diverse perspectives are when collaborating to solve challenging issues, I couldn’t help but wonder how other AEC leaders felt about the topic. According to Pierson, executives involved in the program are all too aware that this is a national problem, and executives who participate in the program come away with “a disproportionate benefit compared with the students.” The future goals for the ESA include securing grant money by gathering statistical data in order to go to other schools and replicate the program.

Currently, 60 students are enrolled in the ESA program. Pierson was proud to report that two of the graduate students were hired by Parsons Brinckerhoff, with the other students going on to further their education or work for other well-known firms. 

For more information on ESA or to get involved, click here:

Sasha Reed | StrXur by Bluebeam
Bluebeam, Inc.
Vice President of Strategic Development

As Vice President of Strategic Development at Bluebeam, Inc., Sasha Reed collaborates with leaders in the architecture, engineering and construction industry to guide Bluebeam’s technology, partnerships and long-term goals. She joined Bluebeam in 2007 and co-created the Concierge Approach, a distinctly branded process of customer engagement, product feedback and solution delivery to which much of Bluebeam’s success is attributed, and which today is replicated at every organizational level.

Sasha is known industry-wide as a “conversation facilitator,” creating platforms for exchanges necessary to digitally advance the industry, including the BD+C Magazine Digital COM Blog, which she authors and manages. She’s been a featured presenter at numerous national and international conferences, including the 2014 Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), Federal Project Delivery Symposium and NTI Danish BIM Conference. Sasha also co-chairs the Construction PDF Coalition, a grassroots effort to provide a common industry framework from which to create and maintain construction PDF documents, serves on the City College of San Francisco BIM Industry Council, and is Advisor to the Board of Direction for the National Institute of Building Sciences BuildingSMART Alliance.

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